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Back to the Future

Pre-season is on us again, and so is attempting to second guess everything about the team via grainy videos posted by players on Twitter. The most interesting being this tweet from Olise.

It's a nice flowing move (let's not talk about the defending) but most important is the setup; Pretty clearly a 5-3-2 (or a 3-4-1-2, or a 5-2-1-2 - whatever you want to call it). I'm not going to attempt to get into Mark Bowen's head - but this effectively means ripping up half a season's work and going back to the formation that he first used when taking over from José Gomes. I'm not angry about that, although certainly confused.

To nobody's surprise, back in October, he attempted to make the system slightly more defensive, bringing one of the more advanced central midfielders (Swift) back to make a double pivot, and not allowing the wing-backs to bomb forward quite so much - although they did still push on when the need arose. This defensive stability allowed Ejaria an almost total free role in the advanced position, and he often formed a front three to press the opposition's backline. The current Liverpool player ran the show from that position and looked far more threatening than when he was out left. We still mainly looked to play on the counter-attack, with the back three playing direct into the strikers. 

That was slightly different from the system we used against Swansea when we next saw the three at the back, which was more akin to how we'd played in the latter part of the season pre-suspension. Swift was the deepest midfielder in a flatter midfield trio, and his job was to create from deep with Rino and Olise providing the legwork next to him. Miazga's position in the centre of the back three allowed him to dictate play, and Morrison was looking to create angles to progress the ball without going long. We were much more focused on playing through midfield, and up until Méité's red (and Rafael's error) it appeared to be working.

With Joao up front, there's not necessarily a need to play through midfield, but at this point, you have to assume we'll be playing a significant portion of the season without him. Plus you want to have Swift and Olise (and Ejaria) on the ball more. They're the key players. So you'd hope that Bowen pairs his early system, with the tactics of the final day. Josh Laurent - who I've spoken about being a more offensive player than Rinomhota - does fit in the pivot role, where he has three centrebacks and Rinomhota to cover any foray forward but doesn't offer the same range of passing as Swift.

In that sense it does change the way our transfer business looks. Skipp made sense as cover for Swift, we really have nobody else to play a deeper playmaking role if the need were to arise, but the interest in Mendes seems stranger if we're moving away from a system with one striker. The idea of signing someone to play as a lone target man makes sense when you look at our struggles post-Joao injury, but falls apart if we're developing systems to counteract that same loss. It also makes the decision not to resign Gabriel Osho look like an odd one, given we now look awfully light at centre-back. Having Holmes as a fourth choice CB is more palatable when he's not first back-up with no obvious choice behind him.

The main concern is the personnel 3-4-1-2 allows you to have on the field. If Ejaria signs, something which is looking slightly more likely, then it's difficult to see how to field him alongside Olise in this system. Even Swift could find himself fighting for the attacking midfield role if Bowen chooses to go with both Rinomhota and Laurent deeper. Likewise, it means dropping one of Joao, Puscas, and Meite. Obviously just throwing your best players into a system doesn't make the best system, but dropping potential match-winners isn't always the best strategy either.

I mean this could all be total rubbish, and we could still end up with 4-4-2.


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